By Yuri Karpenko
Northern Irish footballers are yet to make a real impression in Europe, with Linfield occupying a modest 353rd position in the UEFA club ratings (against Borisov BATE’s 83rd place). Meanwhile, the country’s national team was in the top thirty of the FIFA ratings just two years ago. The difference is easily explained. The Northern Irish championship boasts only semi-professional status, with no professional clubs participating. Young footballers tend to move to England as soon as possible, with the most talented joining the football academies of grand clubs. For many, playing with the 3th or 4th English division is also possible.
Linfield is also a semi-professional team, playing under the slogan ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’ and does tend to enjoy success at home matches, having won the Northern Irish League 50 times. It’s hardly possible to find another European club with so many home match victories. Despite their 125 year history and many titles, they presented only a modest threat to BATE. Nevertheless, the Borisov team had their work cut out for them.
In the fifth minute, halfback Daryl Fordyce headed a goal into the net, matched by Renan Bressan in the 38th minute, with a penalty (a Linfield player used his hand to deflect Maxim Skavysh’s strike). The match eventually ended with a 1:1 draw.
BATE head coach Victor Goncharenko admitted after the match that he had not expected such mediocre play from his squad. “I was surprised by their weak performance. We hoped to win and should have done. Before coming to Northern Ireland, the team were playing well, being in good shape. It’s unclear why we performed so badly,” he asserts. He promises that, in the return match, BATE will make up for its mistakes, winning a place in the Champions’ League’s next round. “I’m convinced that we’ll play much better in Borisov than we did in Belfast. We have the chance to strengthen our game.”